NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 26: Michael Cohen, longtime personal lawyer and confidante for President Donald Trump, leaves the United States District Court Southern...
Spencer Platt

‘In coordination with and at the direction of a candidate for federal office’

The Rachel Maddow Show, 8/21/18, 9:49 PM ET

Cohen allocution may position Trump as unindicted co-conspirator

Paul Fishman, former U.S. attorney, talks with Rachel Maddow about the legal implications of former Donald Trump attorney Michael Cohen implicating Trump in his allocution at his guilty plea hearing.
Paul Fishman, former U.S. attorney, talks with Rachel Maddow about the legal implications of former Donald Trump attorney Michael Cohen implicating Trump in his allocution at his guilty plea hearing.
After Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s former attorney and “fixer,” surrendered to the FBI yesterday, I found myself wondering what line Rudy Giuliani might peddle. He didn’t disappoint.

“There is no allegation of any wrongdoing against the president in the government’s charges against Mr. Cohen,” the presidential attorney said in a statement.

That was amusing, but the problem for Trump and his legal defense team is that the president has now been directly implicated in a felony.

Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former personal attorney, pleaded guilty Tuesday afternoon to eight counts of tax evasion, bank fraud and campaign finance violations, including two counts related to hush-money payments made to women – and said he made the payments “at the direction of a candidate,” meaning Trump.

Trump’s name didn’t come up in the federal courtroom in Manhattan, but Cohen said he had paid two women, apparently porn actress Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal, “at the direction” of an unnamed candidate in 2016, and that a $150,000 payment in August 2016 was for the “principal purpose of influencing” the 2016 presidential election. Both Daniels and McDougal have said they had past relationships with Trump.

There’s no ambiguity in what transpired yesterday. Michael Cohen stood up in a federal court room, admitted to making illegal payoffs to two of Trump’s alleged former mistresses, and told a judge that the payments were made “in coordination with and at the direction of a candidate for federal office,” directly implicating the president in a federal crime.

Trump’s name was not mentioned specifically in court or in the court filings, but there’s no great mystery as to who Cohen was referring to when he referenced “a candidate for federal office.” Indeed, the prosecutors’ court filing yesterday described “Individual One” as someone who became “the president of the United States.”

Paul Fishman, a former U.S. attorney, told Rachel on the show last night that Cohen effectively “admitted to a conspiracy.” The former federal prosecutor added, “That makes the president of the United States an unindicted co-conspirator.”

Trump isn’t exactly alone. After telling the judge that he acted at Trump’s direction, Cohen also described his coordination with “the CEO of a media company” – most likely, AMI’s David Pecker, whose company publishes the National Enquirer tabloid – to implement a scheme “for the principal purpose of influencing the election.”

And then, of course, there’s the president’s company, the Trump Organization, which also appears to be implicated, by virtue of the fact that it reimbursed Michael Cohen for the illegal payoff. In fact, the Trump Organization not only reimbursed Cohen, the business paid him a lot more on top of the sum, apparently for having provided an illegal service.

“I don’t know if you can indict a president,” Rachel noted on the show last night, “but I’m pretty sure you can indict the president’s company.”